The Robberg Coastal Corridor Protected Environment (RCCPE) is one of two of the environmental causes of the Bitou Community Foundation Trust, with a focus of sustainable development in the Bitou region of the Western Cape Province, incorporating Plettenberg Bay.
Situated in the heart of the Cape Floral Kingdom on an exceptionally beautiful stretch of pristine coastline within the newly declared UNESCO Garden Route Biosphere Reserve, the Robberg Coastal Corridor (RCC) is a critical 18km eco-corridor that links two important protected areas: the Garden Route National Park and the Robberg Nature Reserve
Most importantly, the Corridor hosts rare and threatened fynbos that is endemic to the Cape Floral Kingdom and one of the wonders of the botanical world. The RCC is also one of the eco-corridors situated within the greater Eden to Addo Corridor Initiative. Preserving this narrow and highly threatened Corridor will enable the migration of plants and animals, and maintain key ecological processes, such as seed dispersal, pollination, nutrient recycling, and predator-prey interaction.
The rationale and objectives of 2012 are captured in the Environmental Law Guideline for a coastal corridor, the first such document to be published in South Africa.
To date, some two thirds of the Corridor has been declared a Protected Environment to prevent inappropriate development, and there is proactive collaboration with SANParks and Cape Nature to protect the remaining areas.
In 2014 a hitherto unknown species of fynbos was discovered within the Robberg Coastal Corridor Protected Environment during a botanical survey. This plant, a member of the sweet pea family with a beautiful deep violet flower, has been named Psoralea vanberkelae after its discoverer. It is now secure in the Millenium Seed Bank at Kew Gardens and at Kirstenbosch.
In June 2017 the entire RCCPE was devastated by a one in a hundred-year fire which swept between Knysna and Plettenberg Bay. Natural fynbos thrives on periodic fires which are crucial for its long-term survival and it is heartening to observe the early signs of regeneration. Unfortunately, alien plant species are also re-establishing themselves with a vengeance which, unless arrested, will threaten the survival of the fynbos. The fire has also exposed significant areas to erosion, undermining the natural re-seeding processes, and fire debris has clogged many of the natural waterways on which the fynbos depends. These threats must be addressed urgently before they ravage the unique ecology of this fragile area.
The RCC is entirely reliant on fundraising to give employment to disadvantaged members of the local community in tackling these threats. It also needs a war chest to challenge inappropriate development that could destroy this vital ecological life-line.
In its search to become financially self-sustaining, the RCCPE is working with SANParks and Cape Nature to establish a 35km hiking trail (the Erica Trail) along this magnificent coastline, running from the Robberg Peninsular to Noetsie. The Trail will emulate the world famous 4-day Otter Trail along the Tsitsikamma coast established by the dedicated Dr Robbie Robinson for SANParks in the 1980s, whose revenues help sustain the Tsitsikamma National Park. Up until his death in 2017 the RCCPE has benefitted from Dr Robbie’s enthusiasm and advice on the EricaTrail, however vital funding needs to be secured to make his vision a reality. This project will greatly prove to be of great benefit both to tourism and local employment in the Bitou area.